A Petition to Goodreads

[ETA: Please read the most recent post]

Rating sites are one of those things. You know, the things authors are told by their agents and editors to not look at, because like looking into the TARDIS, it will burn up your soul.

But the fact is, authors look. Maybe not all the time, but now and then, in those moments of weakness, or at the peak of their ego when they think, hey, I’m sure it will be all right (never, ever, ever look, especially while editing).

And part of me likes those sites, like Goodreads because YAY PEOPLE READING BOOKS.

But Goodreads has a flaw. A soul-killing one. It lets people rate books that are not available yet. And by “not available” I don’t mean “not on shelves.” I mean NOT AVAILABLE IN ANY FORM, MY AGENT/EDITOR HAVE NOT EVEN SEEN THIS IT IS IN PIECES ON MY FLOOR.

So when I look at the book in pieces on my floor, and then see that I’ve just received a two-star rating for that same book, I get an eye twitch. Which, not surprisingly, makes it a little harder to edit said book.

The awesome girls over at Adventures in Children’s Publishing have put together a letter, an easy copy-and-paste letter you can send to Goodreads, asking them to add a feature to their book entry form that specifies when a book becomes eligible for ratings/reviews (meaning, when ARCs at least become available). It’s a simple fix that would add a good deal of sanity to a population in great need of it.

If you want to send the letter below, you simply click copy, and paste it in HERE.

Dear Goodreads Staff,

It has come to my attention that once an author creates a Goodreads page and adds their “in the pipeline” book, there is no way to keep people from rating/reviewing the book before copies are actually available for reading. This seems to be a hole in the system, and I wondered if it might be possible to add a date available for rating field for each book to eliminate this loophole. Such a field could contain the date ARCs will be released, and would, ideally, be changeable by the author prior to that date in case ARCs are delayed.

An additional service to authors might allow for a field to help build pre-publicity buzz or let fans build pre-release support, a way to show that someone is looking forward to reading a book once it becomes available. This could be as simple as allowing a book to be added to a TBR pile, and then showing the number of times it appears in a TBR pile for any book that hasn’t yet passed the ARC release date.

I hope you will consider these suggestions.

Thank you and best regards,


“Hi there,

Thanks for contacting us. Goodreads policy allows users to rate a book as soon as it is listed on the site. While most users use the star-ratings to review a book, some like to use the rating system to indicate interest or excitement in an upcoming title. We view this as a valid use of the site. Generally, when users rate a book that has not yet come out, other users take the rating with a grain of salt. If you feel this user is being abusive in other ways, please let us know and we’ll look into the matter further.


So, apparently this is a valid use of a RATING site. That is highly debatable. And the inability to report an erroneous or inappropriate (or in this case impossible) rating on Goodreads if there is no review attached means that both accidental and intentional pre-mature ratings, which skew the system, are unstoppable. ALSO, I take issue with the idea that anyone on the site knows to take a review/rating pre-release with a grain of salt, when large number of people do receive advanced copies ONCE THEY ARE AVAILABLE.


This is a good response, I think, for someone wanting to reply:

“Although you may feel that it is a valid use of the rating system to allow users to rate a book that is not even through the publishing process yet, this is flawed reasoning. If you want to allow people to express interest levels, then ADD an “Interest Level” rating to the site. This eliminates confusion about how to use the rating system properly.” – Cricket in the comments

Another good response can be found over at Adventures in Children’s Publishing:

“Dear Goodreads Staff,

That cannot be a valid use of ratings so long as the ratings factor into total ratings for the book, nor can it be a valid use when such ratings can actually deter someone from buying the book or reading it once an actual copy becomes available. Pre-release ratings can be highly prejudician to a book’s success, not to mention demoralizing for an author and the editorial team.

Furthermore, it has been brought to our attention that anyone can add a book and attribute it to an author, even if the book does not exist.

The Goodreads site performs such a service to readers and authors alike. It is truly a shame to allow an easily-fixed loophole to become a policy that makes no sense and damages the very industry you serve.

Best regards,

AND AND AND check out this fabulous post from Bookalicious Pam on the issue from a REVIEWER’S standpoint.

If nothing else, this issue and your responses are a reminder of the power of VOICE in our community.

64 thoughts on “A Petition to Goodreads

  1. Julie S. says:

    So it’s kinda insane that people rate books they haven’t read, and give poor ratings at that. That doesn’t make sense, but some people are just rude. I sent the letter to goodreads 🙂

    • evening-green says:

      Yes that’s a bit of a problem, no matter if it’s a good or a bad rating, it makes no sense. I get that some readers may be excited about an unreleased, maybe even still unwritten book but there’s better ways to show your excitement than to rate the book beforehand, giving a bad rating makes even less sense, what motivation could possibly be behind that 😕
      Though I guess some could rate a book by accident and not notice their mistake, stranger things happen.

      • veschwab says:

        The problem is this: sometimes the ratings are accidental, a slip of the mouse, and sometimes they’re on purpose for private reference and sometimes they’re on purpose because people can be mean like that, or think writers won’t care.

  2. Cherie Reich says:

    Copy, pasted, and submitted!

    I can’t believe people would rate a book that not only they haven’t read but that isn’t even available yet. It’s definitely something that should be fixed and can probably be fixed pretty easily too.

  3. It makes no sense to me that people would rate a book low (or even high) before reading. I sent the letter as well. Best of luck!

  4. Brenna says:

    I’ve seen so many people do it, and it never makes any sense. Especially when they rate it 1 star and then comment about how excited they are for it… um what? Just add it to your TBR pile then. Your 1 star rating sure doesn’t help.

    • veschwab says:

      It doesn’t make sense to me either. I’ve seen it done by accident, but also on purpose, sometimes by people who use it as a personal ranking scale so they know what they want to read, but sometimes just because…well, I don’t know. But it hurts my soul.

  5. Ermilia says:

    I’m sending the letter in now. I cannot fathom commenting on someone’s incomplete work unless specifically asked to do so. I know how much my MS has evolved between drafts so I can only imagine how much a MS would go through after getting an agent and editor. I haven’t come across much advice about rating sites, so I thank you for posting this for that reason as well.

    • veschwab says:

      Thanks Ermilia. And it’s just a very strange thing, that people do this. It’s one thing if they got their hands on a very, very early copy (and still, given the nature of edits, they shouldn’t rate/review) but to just randomly rate before the book is available in ANY form, even in-house (at the publisher), is crazypants.

  6. Tara says:

    Sent! I agree that this is a huge loophole in the GR system and I hope they make an effort to implement the changes.

  7. Sending right now. It’s a shame that they allow this since I really enjoy using the site. Hmph.

    • veschwab says:

      I know, in other ways it’s such a wonderful site, and I use it as a reader as well as a writer, which is why I keep crushing my own soul by going back.

  8. It’s not just YOU that creates the book. Anyone with an account can. I have a book that pops up in the system from time to time based on a mention I once made on my blog of maybe writing it sometime. I once wrote GR to ask them to take it down, but whoever it was put it right back up.

    They also put up covers that don’t exist.

    My answer is I don’t go to goodreads.

    • veschwab says:

      Goodreads is that horrible habit I’m trying so hard to quit, but it was the cool thing to do before the book came out, back when seeing someone add you to a to-read list was a huge high, and now it’s all crash and ill feelings and I still crawl back in moments of weakness :p

      But yes. It’s a complicating factor that anyone can add a book (and it’s hysterical that they add books that don’t exist)!

  9. Sonia says:

    Sent. I hate seeing ratings (or reviews like, “it sounds bad”) for books that are still being written. Hate it.

  10. Safari Poet says:

    I agree completely. I’ve even asked a couple people who rated a book that wasn’t even available, why they would give a book they haven’t read 1 star. I think I might of commented about this before on GR, but I’ll send the letter above as well.

  11. Safari Poet says:

    It would also make more sense on Goodreads if the book is on your “read” shelf before it can be rated.

    • veschwab says:

      That is a REALLY good point.

    • Julie S. says:

      That would be cool, but right now you can add the book to your read shelf by rating it. Kind of a short cut since it assumes if you rated it then you have read it. I wonder how the people who haven’t read the books feel about that automatic shelf add. Surely they would have to move it to “to-read” once they rated it?

  12. Sonia says:

    I just got this response from GR:

    Hi there,

    Thanks for contacting us. Goodreads policy allows users to rate a book as soon as it is listed on the site. While most users use the star-ratings to review a book, some like to use the rating system to indicate interest or excitement in an upcoming title. We view this as a valid use of the site. Generally, when users rate a book that has not yet come out, other users take the rating with a grain of salt. If you feel this user is being abusive in other ways, please let us know and we’ll look into the matter further.


    • I just got the same reply.

      How is it a valid use of the site? If the book is not available, how is that a “book review”? Can’t they add something that says “how excited are you about this book?”

      Sounds like they are *really* concerned about what the users think, given that we are all being replied to with a generic form letter

  13. Julie S. says:

    I got exactly the same reply as Sonia. I disagree that it is a valid use of the site. Rating how excited you are about a book is fine, but it doesn’t fit with the book review purpose of the ratings.

  14. Denise Z says:

    I understand reading and rating are so individually subjective, but frankly as a reader / reviewer I hate rating a book. I certainly do not understand how someone can rate one that has not been read or even available. It boggles the mind. I think the rating system is too black and white even if there are five stars to choose from. I want to read or write a review that says what the reviewer thought about the read, how it made them feel while reading it, and not pigeonhole it with stars. Thanks for letting me share today.

  15. Kristina says:

    I received the same reply from the same person.

  16. That response just gets my blood roiling. I just got it in the mail and seriously so peeved at them.

    Any ideas on a form response to their response?

  17. Cricket says:

    I submitted the following to Goodreads:

    “Although you may feel that it is a valid use of the rating system to allow users to rate a book that is not even through the publishing process yet, this is flawed reasoning. If you want to allow people to express interest levels, then ADD an “Interest Level” rating to the site. This eliminates confusion about how to use the rating system properly.”

  18. My own response to the GoodReads response was to do what I’ve been considering for some time. I simply deleted my GR account. It’s a small matter, perhaps, but it’s the power I have available.

    The larger issue to me is user reviews are essentially worthless, whether they are at GoodReads or Amazon, or anywhere. While there are thoughtful, careful reviewers aplenty, once an item gets any kind of traction at all (be it book, music, consumer electronics, you name it), the thoughtful reviewers tend to get drowned out by trolls at one end of the bell curve, or friends and hardcore fans at the other. Then there’s the raving masses, people who are outrage junkies who jump in to trash something for reasons which have nothing to do with the item itself. It’s especially annoying when it’s a bunch of one-star reviews from people who wouldn’t read the book in the first place but are angry at the price of the ebook.

    Ultimately, I don’t think reviews are good for writers anyway, even the thoughtful ones. A great review might feel good for a moment, but it doesn’t tell us much that we probably don’t already know. How many of us deliver books we think are crap? And if it’s a bad review, aside from tearing us down, what good is it? The book is done. It’s published. We’re by necessity on to the next thing.

    My original hope for GoodReads is it would be another way for me to interact with readers. I suppose that works for some people, but I’ve not seen it myself. What I do see is a great deal of churlishness and infantile rage-storming. In other words, it’s a site on the internet. Who needs it?

    And so, GoodReads, adieu.

    • Lucy says:

      An author who thinks reader reviews are useless. If I had any idea who you were I’d scratch you off to my to read list. Did you ever think that the bitter, unappreciative approach might not be the best one for your career?

  19. Leah says:

    I must admit, I hate that. I’m not an author, but when I go to view a book that isn’t out yet and see it already has ratings it’s kind of silly. How can you be allowed to rate a book you haven’t read and isn’t even out? I don’t know how they could change it — I mean, if they did it so you could only rate after it’s released, people who read early copies wouldn’t be able to rate them as soon as they read them, but it is something that needs to be changed. I really dislike trolls like that — when I’m looking for a book to read I want to read genuine reviews, not fangirls/trolls who love a book they haven’t even read, it skews it all up and you can’t get a good read on whether a novel is genuinely good or not!

    I love that an author is finally standing up for this, I hope you can make a change with your petition!

  20. I just posted the letter that I am recommending you send back in answer to the stock Goodread’s response. That is just unacceptable, and immensely unfair.


  21. Sophie says:

    This is ridiculous and flawed business logic for goodreads. They need to simply put a stop to it.

  22. The bottom line is that Goodreads is for readers, NOT for us. Readers should feel free to do whatever they want with the ratings, even if it hurts our feelings, even if we feel it’s unfair. They get to rate on whatever criteria they want, whether that’s enthusiasm level or how much they love the cover or how much they liked the book. Does it skew the ratings? Of course. Is it fair to people reading the reviews? Maybe not. But the people making those ratings have a right to do so. It’s a site for them to keep track of their own personal libraries. This isn’t about us.

    Think about facebook. What if what you put in the “About Me” section isn’t really about you? What if one of the books you list isn’t real? I have “But you are the music while the music lasts” listed under my music. That’s my right as a facebook user to put whatever the hell I want under my music. A Goodreads user has the right to put whatever the hell they want for a book.

    They’re not thinking about how we feel. They SHOULDN’T be thinking about how we feel. Goodreads is not for authors. I’ll say it a zillion times. Goodreads is not for authors. WE are infringing on THEIR space.

    I realize I’m probably the only one here who feels this way, but I wanted to say something.

    • veschwab says:

      But the fact is, it’s for authors, too. They encourage authors to be present, to interact with the community as readers and as writers. GR is set up that way. It’s designed for authors to see and be a part. So I can’t agree that it’s ONLY for readers. And AS a reader, the rating system still frustrates me.

      So, sorry I can’t agree with you on this one, Hannah. I think anarchic rating/reviewing defeats the point of the site entirely.

      And I don’t really care if the reviewer is taking my FEELINGS into account. It’s not the number of stars I’m concerned with. I simply think the system has a few glaring inefficiencies. That’s all.

      • Honestly, I think if authors think about it, we don’t like this solution either. How many of our books have 5 stars before they come out from crit partners or behind-the-scenes people who read our book before release? No one’s complaining about them…

  23. Jodi Meadows says:

    I just sent this:

    Hi Kara,

    Thank you for your quick reply. While I know you must be flooded with identical letters from Goodreads users, I hope you will take the following seriously:

    How are casual readers supposed to know that a 1 star is an interest level, rather than an actual rating? Particularly if those ratings stay up after the book is released (and they do stay up). At that point, it is impossible to tell.

    Might it be a good idea to add a field for interest level, rather than allowing ratings to be both? Goodreads is a *rating* and *review* site. People go there to check ratings and reviews on books before they buy, not to guess whether a star — with no indication whether the reviewer has actually read the book — is an actual rating or interest level.

    Goodreads has become one of *the* sites in the industry. I think most authors and readers would agree this is a very good thing, as it brings the community together and allows readers to interact with one another.

    But the system is not perfect. Users are petitioning you for a change that will help improve the site. Please don’t ignore us. Please don’t drive your authors away. Already it’s becoming widely practiced that many authors will *not* go on Goodreads, even if they have an account. This is because the ratings drive them nuts, especially when the stars are interest levels — rather than actual ratings.

    I feel it is in the best interest for all your users — authors and readers alike (and authors are readers too!) — to be clear on the star usage. Either it indicates an actual enjoyment rating or it does not. It cannot be both.

    Thank you again for your time and your response. I really do hope that you’ll listen to your users.


  24. […] sitting here in my pajamas listening to Adele and wondering where it all went wrong. You see I read this post from Victoria Schwab and I agreed with everything she said about you. I wanted to give you the […]

  25. I agree with the “no ratings before ARC copies are available” idea. I understand that some readers/reviewers want to show an interest in a book before it comes out (or apparently is even finished being written!). It would be a smart idea to give reader/reviewer the chance to show that interest, separately and away from the review rating stars. An interest barometer if you will.

    I’d also like to see a revamp of their reviewing system. Currently, readers are allowed to vote a straight 1-5 stars. Problem is, not all 3 star books are the same. We need the option of .5 stars, or even .25 scaled stars. A 3.0 or 3.25 book is not the same as one that’s almost 4 (3.75), but we are forced to lump them together in a 3.

  26. Bonnie says:

    That’s RIDICULOUS!!! I hope enough people send out this email and they do something about it. I’m so sorry this happened to you! *hugs*

  27. Pam says:

    Goodreads is like that toxic boyfriend that gives you the heebeegeebies but you still keep going out with.

  28. I expanded Cricket’s reply into this:
    “Although you may feel that it is a valid use of the rating system to allow users to rate a book that is not even through the publishing process yet, this is flawed reasoning. If you want to allow people to express interest levels, then ADD an “Interest Level” rating to the site. This eliminates confusion about how to use the rating system properly. Especially since, once the book IS THROUGH THE PUBLISHING PROCESS, the interest level and the actual ratings for the book mix and do no longer indicate the actual rating. Some people may indicate a low interest level (only one or two starts) and never actually pick the book up – so their bad ratings stay, and totally undeserved, and pull the rating down.
    You system is seriously flawed and therefore unreliable if it stays like this!”

  29. This has been bothering me for awhile as well. For example I’ve been wondering how a person can give a book a 1 star rating when the book isn’t due for release until say 2013.

  30. Vivian says:

    I’ve also sent a letter and was completely unaware of this problem. Might I suggest that all GoodReads members start a thread on this matter in the GoodReads Feedback group (http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/1.Goodreads_Feedback)? Perhaps GoodReads.com will take our concerns more seriously if they can instantly see how many people are interested in this issue…just a thought.

  31. The other solution to this that I can think of is that once a book reaches release day, all ratings are flushed and it starts at zero. Yes, this will lose a book any positive ratings it’s received as an ARC, but it also washes out the idiotic 1 stars given for as yet unreleased books.

  32. sherrysoule says:

    Sent a copy of the letter to them. I agree, the rating system sucks!!


    [url=”http://sherrysoule.com”]Sherry Soule Official Author Website[/url]

  33. Phoebe says:

    Sorry Victoria, but I’m going to have to agree with Hannah here.

    I’ve been pretty careful not to talk about this publicly, but it feels relevant so I’ll tell you about my own experience on the author side of things with GR ratings. Before BEA, I posted a free short story on the site. It’s gotten some good reviews. It’s also gotten two one-star ratings, each with a single-line, very harsh review. Both of these were new accounts, private, with about thirty other ratings and no text reviews. All of the users’ other ratings were five stars.

    I figured I was being trolled. I got butthurt, and went to GR about it. To my frustration at the time, they told me that they don’t believe in censoring reviews unless there is compelling evidence to suggest that there’s harassment going on. I stewed about it.

    But you know what? Over time, I’ve come to agree with their stance. They don’t want to be amazon–a place where censorship runs rampant and where the author’s feelings/lawyers are given total precedence over open and honest conversations. This means that raters are given more latitude and trust. And yes, some raters DO use the ratings system as a way to register their excitement for a release. I’ve seen it happen. If you’re familiar with the suggestions board on the site, any change to the system upsets part of their customer base. By remaining largely consistent in their standards, GR is doing their best to retain that customer base.

    This eliminates confusion about how to use the rating system properly

    There is no confusion. GR has been consistent in stating that readers use star ratings in many different ways. All of this is still presupposing that there’s a right way to implement a star rating–a “grade” on a book already read–and that’s just not true nor supported by anything on the site.

    The reason I didn’t speak up about my own experience with this sort of thing, and the reason I’m glad I didn’t, is that I think it’s really easy for these calls to action or even complaints to look like calls for censorship. In this case, you’re focusing on the single two-star review. If it’s about people rating books they can’t have read, wouldn’t you be just as upset about the two five star reviews?

    I know it might be hard to see the forest for the trees here. But I know from my own GR friends’ page that the site has been good to your book–there’s incredible buzz about it there, and I saw last night that the Near Witch is even listed as an “August Movers & Shakers.” I know that this outcry is well-intended and, in fact, likely comes from a place of hurt. But if you want GR to remain a place where readers can connect honestly, openly, and enthusiastically, I think this campaign misses the mark.

  34. Here is the reply Goodreads sent me once I sent my letter:

    “Hi there,

    Thanks for contacting us. Goodreads policy allows users to rate a book as soon as it is listed on the site. While most users use the star-ratings to review a book, some like to use the rating system to indicate interest or excitement in an upcoming title. There is not one set way to use the rating system.

    Additionally, it’s not a simple matter to prevent ratings of a book based upon publication date. The publication date is frequently inaccurate. Thousands of our users receive advanced copies of books; we have no way of knowing when ARCs for individual books are sent out. There is no universal standard in the industry for that. In the end, we have no way of knowing that any person on the site has read any of the books they claim to have read. Verifying this would be impractical.

    Please keep in mind that when users rate a book that has not yet come out, other users tend to take the rating with a grain of salt.

    If you feel a user is being abusive in other ways, please let us know and we’ll look into the matter further.


  35. mercy20 says:

    Wouldn’t the simplest solution be for authors NOT to add books into the database until they’re releasing arcs… or on release day itself?

    • Phoebe says:

      Authors aren’t the only ones able to add books (and for good reason–many authors are not on goodreads); instead, Goodreads “librarians” (users with additional database-creating powers) also can.

  36. T says:

    This seems to be such an insignificant issue to campaign about, frankly.
    So what if some readers are excited about an upcoming book and rate it without reading it? Or opposite, not excited about a book? Seriously, how does it affect authors in a grand scheme of things? Fans will not care if there are some random 2-star ratings. It won’t mean anything for non-fans either. That’s my take on it.

    • veschwab says:

      To be honest it simply started as a remark on Twitter, and then a handful of bloggers kind of championed it. But whether or not it’s a significant or insignificant thing, I never discourage dialogue.

  37. I don’t see how someone can rate a book they haven’t read. That seems kind of underhanded to me. If the book was in their hands, that would be a different story.

  38. Small Review says:

    It drives me bonkers when people use the star ratings to express excitement (or lack of excitement). I’m a statistics junky and those sorts of “ratings” muddy the waters. Sure I can disregard a rating/review if it’s clear the person hasn’t read the book yet, but the overall star rating is still misleading then. As it stands right now, ratings are used for two purposes (excitement level and enjoyment of the book), and both of those purposes suffer as a result of their being combined into one system.

    I would love for GR to include an “excitement” rating. Not only would that be helpful in that it would make for cleaner “actual enjoyment of book” stats, but it would also be helpful in its own right. It could help readers quickly prioritize their TBR, build excitement for a title, and it provides a nice context for reviews once the person has read the book. I like seeing if that 5-star rating is from a book the person was pretty sure they’d like or if their level of enjoyment was a total surprise to the reader.

    I don’t think this issue is about censorship, hurt feelings, or whether or not authors should have a say. To me, it’s just about cleaning up statistics and making the site as efficient as possible to best serve its users. The fact that readers are using the ratings to express their anticipation for a book demonstrates a need, and I think that need can be met in a much better manner. What separates great businessmen from the rest is their ability to identify the needs and desires of their consumer base and then meet those needs in the most efficient manner. Goodreads has a wonderful opportunity here to set the bar higher and better serve their users.

  39. […] time that I’ve felt that Goodreads have a flawed system – remember what happened with Victoria Schwab getting 1-star reviews on a book that NO ONE had a copy of yet? The system is seriously flawed, but […]

  40. […] Not only do they refuse to delete MY book that I posted on their site myself, and not only do they allow people to rate and review books that are not even available in ARC form, they also refuse to take measures that would allow me to safely abandon my […]

  41. StandUp says:

    It makes a lot of sence to me that people rate books before their even released. Sometimes we do that, because we know how the author is. If it’s a crumby author, we don’t want to support their work.

    I love your books, Swab, but you really disappointed me with this post.

    Your acting like one of those crumby authors. It’s sad, to say the least. Goodreads is our place to spread our oppinions.
    I don’t think you need to flip your shit about our ratings because you think your next book won’t sell as well.

    • veschwab says:

      Oh, StandUp, your attitude toward me on this matter is unnecessary and a bit unfair. I’d like to point out that this post is nearly THREE YEARS old, and that my opinions have actually changed since posting–namely, I do not go on Goodreads anymore, and could not care less how people use it–but I believe firmly in not burying past selves and past posts, which is why this is still up. I was a brand new author, and Goodreads was a frightening thing (for comparison, you are getting worked up over a website, is it really so hard to imagine authors getting worked up over their books?) and I was expressing that fear.

      Even though my opinion is different now, several years and several books later, I am really disappointed by your aggression.

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